Nobody can deny that Pope Francis is a likeable guy. It isn’t often that you get somebody so high up in an institution calling on people to help the needy, even if that is the whole point of the Catholic Church. But while Francis has made some agreeable statements on some social issues, this alone is nowhere near enough to make him the progressive hero that many liberals see him as.
Back in July, Pope Francis made several statements about the Catholic Church’s obsession with gay people and abortion. Calling out people within the Church who are preoccupied with abortion and gay marriage, the Pope reminded his colleagues that there are bigger issues at hand. The status quo in the modern Vatican has been one of condemnation and sometimes outright anger towards these issues, and so it is nice to see somebody finally calling out the unhealthy obsession many priests have with them. Similarly, I absolutely cannot fault recent statements whereby he called on the Church to do its job and help the poor and needy, since another status quo in the Church has been to justify greed and excessive spending. Thanks to Pope Francis, the era of endless greed in the Catholic Church may finally be coming to an end, and the message of Jesus to tend to the poor may make the final cut.
However praiseworthy his recent comments have been, there is a darker side to this “liberal” Pope. As the Huffington Post reported a couple of months ago, this year Pope Francis excommunicated Australian priest Greg Reynolds for supporting women and gay rights, proving that the “obsession” with minorities is something the Pope has no real intention to change. For the sake of balance, we must mention that during his reign Pope Francis has also temporarily suspended German bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst for spending millions on his private mansion. But all this serves to prove is that with one hand Francis removes the Vatican’s bad legacy, and on the other he props it up. To think that spending millions on a private residence and supporting gay rights are both deserving of punishment is not radically progressive and it is not liberal. Equally, the Pope showed his true colors when he denounced abortion and reaffirmed the right to defend the unborn, only 24 hours after blasting the Church’s small-minded obsession with abortion.
Pope Francis has not lent his support for women’s rights or gay rights, he has merely criticized how often people talk about them, and to add insult to injury, has publicly condemned same-sex marriage on the basis that it “harms children”. Saying that the Church is too obsessed with abortion and gay people is not the same thing as supporting abortion rights and gay people. Pope Francis has washed his hands of the debate – he has no intention of changing the Vatican’s hostility towards minorities, he is just tired of talking about it. “Who am I to judge gay people” is an admirable statement, but it does not change anything and it openly contradicts his opposition to same-sex marriage. It does not change the 78 countries where homosexuality is illegal, it does not change the Vatican’s perpetuation of negative stereotypes and it does not change the guilt and repression many young gay people face growing up in deeply Catholic households.
A liberal Pope guides his people towards the message of Jesus, he does not brush off the debate around vulnerable people with an apathetic sentence or two. And that is why Pope Francis is not deserving of the title “liberal hero”.